The two Sky Sports pundits selected their best XI of the last 12 months, which took into account Liverpool’s title-winning campaign before and after the coronavirus pandemic and the 2020/21 season that has seen the Reds return to the top of the table ahead of Leicester City, Manchester United, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur – as well as surprise package Southampton.
With the final Premier League games before Christmas wrapped up on Monday night as Chelsea defeated West Ham and Burnley beat Wolverhampton Wanderers, Carragher and Neville cast their mind back over a tumultuous year in football to select the players who have stood out the most.
Much of their side met expectations, with Liverpool dominating the line-up thanks to their first league triumph in 30 years, with Alisson, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Virgil van Dijk, Andy Robertson, Jordan Henderson and Mohamed Salah making up more than half of the team.
But neither Mane nor teammate Roberto Firmino made the cut as Spurs duo Harry Kane and Son fended them off for selection, in what proved to be the toughest decision for the former Premier League defenders.
“You cannot criticise Son or Mane,” explained Neville. “There’s no negatives about them and every club in the world would want Son or Mane playing for them.
“But when you plug the goals and assists in Son has done better in a team that’s not done as good as Liverpool but that’s no reflection on Mane.”
Son has registered 11 of his 14 goals this season in the Premier League along with a further six goals in the second half of last season, and the South Korean has four assists to his name this term. In comparison, Mane has scored 13 times since the start of the year, but only five of those have come this season and he has laid on just two goals for his Liverpool teammates.
With the Senagalese forward struggling for goals of late, Carragher admitted that he did not warrant the place ahead of Son.
“I love Mane but he’s going through a spell at the moment with one goal in nine games and Son has been off the charts you can’t not pick him,” the former Liverpool defender explained.
“When I think of it, the left side of attack is arguably the strongest position in the Premier League right now. You’ve always had Mane and (Raheem) Sterling as good as anything in the world. (Eden) Hazard has just dropped off at Madrid, Neymar’s obviously a top player but Marcus Rashford and Son have both jumped up.
“Son has got the edge but we’ve got the best in the world at that position.”
The other controversial pick came in defence, where Wolves captain Conor Coady was selected to join the three Liverpool players ahead of the likes of Aymeric Laporte and Harry Maguire. With Liverpool defenders Joe Gomez, Joel Matip and emergency cover Fabinho all playing partial roles throughout the year in defence, Carragher and Neville were forced to look elsewhere for the final cog at the back.
Having steered Wolves to a seventh-place finish for a second consecutive season and an appearance in the Europa League quarter-finals, Coady was handed his England debut by manager Gareth Southgate, and it proved enough for him to claim a place in the pundits’ team of the year.
“I put into contention Eric Dier, Harry Maguire, Conor Coady, Aymeric Laporte and Tyrone Mings,” said Neville. “Coady to be fair with Wolves’ defensive record, breaking into the England team and his stats were as good as any of the rest. Laporte’s missed games, it just became a choice.
Carragher added: “There’s always that question until you’ve played at international level or European football.
“I think making the step up with the international team and his personality in defence as well he deserves to get in.
“We talk about keeping clean sheets, his passing from the back is as good as anyone.
“There is possibly only Virgil van Dijk in the Premier League who is better as a centre back. That back five almost picked itself.”
Neville’s and Carragher’s team of the year: Alisson (Liverpool); Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool), Conor Coady (Wolves), Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool), Andy Robertson (Liverpool); Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City), Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), Bruno Fernandes (Manchester United); Mohamed Salah (Liverpool), Harry Kane (Tottenham), Son Heung-min (Tottenham).
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